News of his impending hire, as first reported by the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell (though other outlets sadly and shamefully and pointlessly wanted you to believe otherwise), sent all of us to our laptops to attempt to glean information. Mike Dunlap, former associate Arizona Wildcats and assistant St. John's coach, is apparently in great shape. There was a New York Times feature on him a few years ago, detailing what should have been a very uneasy time as Arizona's replacement (and not interim) coach, soon to be let go as soon as the season ended.
And all I have, as an NBA guy, is assurance through the newly established Twitter feed of Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who called his former assistant "one of the most creative defensive minds" he's ever worked with on Monday. Significant praise, and praise we'd trust, coming from George -- a man who has made a career out of mixing it up with unorthodox defensive schemes. But without much to go on, about Dunlap, besides this … how do we greet the man?
With open arms, I'd say. Maybe it's our appalling optimism, but because Dunlap isn't included amongst the typical NBA retreads that usually grab these jobs (even though some of those "retreads" that were in Charlotte's discussions, like Jerry Sloan and Nate McMillan, are fantastic coaches), we tend to take the glass is half-full approach with Dunlap. Especially because his hire represents the first true hiring of the (Bobcats GM) Rich Cho era, and not owner Michael Jordan's era.
Oddly, we like what we don't know in this instance, especially because Charlotte's last two coaches came in with a defined set of goals and executed exactly as anticipated. Larry Brown was hired as coach in 2009 to take a roster that was a few cross words and properly designed play from becoming a mediocre, lower-rung playoff team. And Brown accomplished what he set out to do, taking Charlotte to its lone playoff berth in 2010 before resigning the following year.
Paul Silas was brought along to, sadly, suffer his career coaching winning percentage and give his young team a sense of professionalism while they rebuilt the roster. Once it became obvious that Paul's son Stephen Silas wasn't going to be taking over, the writing was on the wall that Paul shoved underachieving forward Tyrus Thomas up against in frustration.
Dunlap? He'll have the same rebuilding frustrations ahead of him. Thomas is likely gone, a victim of the amnesty provision that will save the struggling Bobcats even more money. And though there have been rumors about a panicky Jordan attempting to trade for veteran after veteran in order to pump the team's record back up, if Cho is truly running the show without interference, the rebuilding process will continue unabated. This means selecting a youngster with the second overall pick in next week's draft and not wasting payroll considerations on good players that will be past their prime by the time Charlotte sees its rebuilding pay off.
This also provides Dunlap with the luxury of learning on the job with little expectations beyond improving a team that contributed the worst single-season winning percentage of any NBA team in history. Yes, he worked as an assistant under Karl and presumably knows the game, but the potential Bobcats hire will be tossed into a league that demands exhaustive scouting reports on nearly 450 players after a few years out of the pro game. It takes a while to catch up, for even the most diligent of workers and beatific of minds.
OK, maybe the optimism is getting a little too far out of hand with the last one.
Anything's better than "the worst ever," though. And when you're starting from the absolute bottom — as Charlotte, with no real high lottery picks or significant assets heading into grabbing its first of both in the 2012 NBA draft — it makes complete and total sense to take a risk on a coach that you see as potential-laden in the same way a 19-year raw NBA prospect is.
We know precious little about Mike Dunlap, right now. His first game won't cross our TV for another 4 1/2 months. He's different and new, though. And anything combining those qualities, sent Charlotte's way, has to be an improvement. And a fine hire.
We're looking forward to learning about him.
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